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Neil Diamond was born in Brooklyn in 1941 where he grew up with his Jewish family. He started recording records in 1960 and is still touring the world today so this greatest hits collection spans a remarkable duration of this brilliant singer's career. The Mrs liked Neil Diamond back in the day and over the years I just sort of became a fan by and by.
1. Cracklin' Rosie
2. I Am... I Said
3. Song Sung Blue
4. Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show
5. Holly Holy
7. He Ain't Heavy
9. Play Me
10. Walk On Water
11. And The Singer Sings His Song
12. Mr Bojangles
13. Solitary Man
14. Kentucky Woman
15. And The Stars Won't Pay No Mind
16. The Last Thing on My Mind
17. Girl, You'll Be a Woman, Soon
18. If You Go Away
19. Brooklyn Roads
20. Sweet Caroline
Most of Neil Diamond's biggest hits are here and there's something for everyone from pop to soul to a little bit of rock n roll. Cracklin' Rosie is one of my favourites for listening to while I'm out in the garden or heaven forbid, doing some housework (men do it too you know). It's got a really rock n roll beat and has a really catchy melody and lyric to it too.
Holly Holy is one I don't like I'm afraid. It's all a bit too slow and biblical for me I have to say. There's too many instruments going on for the orchestral bits and it just isn't a pop song to me. I suppose some people like something a bit more artistic on their records but then if you like arty stuff, surely you don't buy Neil Diamond? David Bowie would seem more appropriate to do this kind of song.
He Ain't Heavy is on here and a brilliant song even if it is a bit slow for a pop song. Neil Diamond didn't actually write this which is unusual as he writes most of his own material. You can tell by the effort he puts into singing this song how much he likes though and that must be why he did a cover song. I really like the acoustic guitar bits in this though it does sound a bit strange in contrast to the rest of the song I have to say. It works for me though.
Solitary Man is one of my all time favourites for its sense of irony. It's really upbeat and something to sing along to as well. The music is really well composed in this and there's enough going on for this to be a folk rock number without it being a racket. I like the quirky backing vocals in this too. The track on this album is actually sung live which makes it even better.
Now for one I don't like again, The Last Thing on My Mind. One for the ladies maybe? Well, my lady seems to like this anyway. But as a bloke, who's already admitting to liking Neil Diamond, liking this would be a step too far. It's really soppy and drawn out, like Neil Diamond is having some kind of asthma attack while he sings it. Okay if you're on a date in 1979 and trying to get a girl into bed for the first time I guess but not something you really want to listen to the wrong side of the 80s in my mind.
Finally, I really like the last track on this collection, Sweet Caroline. It's a bit like Cracklin' Rosie in style, almost like a western folk pop song if you know what I mean. It's got a really jolly pop song rhythm and a great lyric too. I love the backing vocals in this and the way you can sing along to it without even trying.
A couple of songs I think are missing from the album are the ones Neil Diamond wrote for the Monkees. Well I say that, apparently he didn't write them for the Monkees but they just happened to release them first. He wrote and sung I'm a Believer and Look Out himself (as well as a couple of others) that the Monkees are most famed for. But he wrote them and actually sung them much better than the Monkees did. Maybe because of the association they were omitted to avoid confusion but I do think it's a bit of a shame.
I do recommend this though, especially to those who grew up listening to pop songs in the 1970s. This is an ideal collection if you like Neil Diamond but don't own any of his albums so far. It's a shame a couple of tracks are missing, and a couple of bad ones are included, but at least there's something here for everyone.
I apologise for not being brief.
This is as much about enjoying writing as enjoying the product - although against every dictum of taste and discernment, I do enjoy the product immensely. If those of you who've seen it elsewhere want to skip it I won't be offended!
The rest... enjoy!
I have been seduced by the dark side. Let me explain... Yes, I've become an easy listening addict. I've knowingly, voluntarily, bought a Neil Diamond album and worse, I absolutely love it! How did this happen? Heaven knows. I'm still reeling in shock. I don't think I'm having a mid-life crisis, I mean, I'm not quite 40 yet. Perhaps it's that predilection for anti-cred I've always had but anti-cred is easy when you're young and therefore automatically credible. I've reached the age where I'm not. Whatever it is I'm afraid... very afraid... that it's the first indication of my final slippery slide from relative youth into middle age because, you see, I'm already planning to buy another one. Can I turn this around? Can I make a convincing argument to be proud of owning this album? No but if it helps, I can tell you why I like it.
Although, as a youngster, I had a predeliction for vertical hair and studs I have always had eclectic tastes... the first four albums I bought were "The Hurting" by Tears for Fears, "Atom Heart Mother" by Pink Floyd, "My Kind of Schubert" and "Never Mind the Bollocks" by the Sex Pistols. A good mix for a 10 year old. Time has not improved things. My current CD collection contains rock n'roll, rock, ska, punk, new wave, new romantic, classical, pop, trance, dance, ambient, R&B, reggae, rap, Britpop, country and western, alternative and whatever school of music Kraftwork, Pink Floyd and Coldplay fall into from about 1950 onwards - but everyone has to draw the line somewhere. This is just wrong! And yet.... I can't help myself..... I have been seduced by the Dark Side of the Force, easy listenin'. Two weeks ago I had street cred. My friends' children still think I'm cool because they don't know what's happened - well ok, that maybe more to do with my car than anything else - but even so, how did I get from there to here?
It all started like this. Many years ago, I'm chatting away to my, then, Boss as we drive between meetings and we get onto the topic of music. To my absolute consternation, he tells me that in his view, the God of Pop is not Robbie or Elvis but actually Neil Diamond.
"Not 1970s spangly blue shirts undone to the navel Neil Diamond?" I ask him, guffawing mightily - although to be honest I quite like "Love on the Rocks" and "Forever in Blue Jeans" although of course having dissed Mr Diamond so thoroughly, I wasn't going to admit that to him.
"No. Not 1970s spangly shirts undone to the navel Neil Diamond." He retorts tersely. "I'm referring to 1960s, god-of-folk, pisses-on-the-other-pretentious-twonks-around-at-the-time-from-a-great-height, Neil Diamond! HE didn't write any stupid soppy songs about Vincent Van Gogh!" "But he did write `You Don't Bring me Flowers'." I counter. "Pish! That's an aberration!" He replies.
He then went on to argue, with a certain amount of passion I might add, that I should forget about the spangly 70s guy with the lid. Mr Diamond, he assured me, was highly fashionable when he was my age and liking his music was nothing to be ashamed of! Furthermore he was mean, moody and magnificent a figure to look up, nay aspire to - in his heyday most definitely a bit of a babe magnate.... (really?). "Yes, just ask my wife." Not to mention a seriously accomplished musician etc etc... The long and the short of it, I was almost convinced but at the same time, a little afraid he might be joshing...
When I was the age my boss thought I was, that is, young enough to go to pop gigs and enjoy them, the bands I wanted to see had names like "Mucus and the Bottywipes" not Neil Diamond but then my ex-boss is 13 years older than me, he was a young man in an era when it was not only de rigeur to wear chest wigs, medallions, lurex shirts undone to the waist and flares but people actually thought it looked cool. It's only to be expected from him but me? Nah. Even so, I made a mental note at the time that if I could find a Neil Diamond album from the 60s at a car boot - he'd warned me off pretty much anything recorded after 1972 as "for hardened Neil-aholics only" - I'd swipe it, for experimental purposes.
Spool forward a few years, five, to be exact and Mrs Sweary is busy compiling her Christmas CD list on Amazon - I buy what I want, other people give me the money. Having selected the greatest hits of Faithless, Daniel Powter and Athlete - I'm telling you this is a brazen attempt to prove that I listen to real music by proper popular music combos as well as erm... the stuff I'm describing - she then finds she is about 3 pence short of the £25 required to qualify for free postage. Arse! What to do.... Ah yes, a makeweight CD... and suddenly she remembers her ex-boss and his impassioned monologue in the car about Mr Diamond. Sure enough, The Best of Neil Diamond, on Spectrum is only £3.33. Not only that but it is mid career stuff - '68 to '72 - and has "Sweet Caroline" on it so I know I'll like one song. Excellent! Cheaper than £5.00 postage and a couple of positive but non-gushing Amazon reviews from surprised non-fans, to boot, so into the basket it goes.
The CD arrived in a box with a completely different picture to the one on Amazon or illustrated here. The mean, moody and well... close to magnificent gentleman on the cover has a full head of his own hair and does, indeed, bear no relation to Mr Spangly at all - more of a cross between Pete Best from those early Cavern photos of the Beatles and a very young Bob Dylan. Not quite the Sweary cup of tea but he's got a good smoulder on him and I can imagine there are a lot of ladies who wouldn't turn a man like that out of bed on a winter's night for eating crackers. To be honest apart from the stuff I just mentioned, which was in the charts when I was a kid. I know very little about Mr Diamond's later offerings and this album leaves me none the wiser, ending, as it does, with a brace of songs recorded in 1972. He took a 3 year career break to be a proper dad to his young family at that point. A point in his favour, I'd say.
WHO IS HE?
Investigating the sleeve notes I discover that Neil Diamond was born "Neil Leslie Diamond" - in Brooklyn in 1941, there appears to be some disagreement, on the internet, as to whether Neil Diamond is a real or stage name but since his dad's surname is Diamond, too, I'd lay bets it's real. At 63 he is still touring! Blimey! He's got a lot more get up and go than I have then. Investigations into what sort of person he is don't turn up much other than that he has 4 children and has been married and divorced twice. In short, he likes to keep his personal life personal. I reckon he has a sense of humour. We are talking about a man whose first album was called "The Feel of Neil Diamond" known to Diamond cognoscenti as "The Feel of Neil". If you listen, there is also wry humour in the songs while other lyrics are soul baring and clearly autobiographical - more on that story.... later.
The potted biography given pretty much everywhere is that he was given a guitar for his 16th birthday and wrote a song for his then girlfriend. He didn't think about recording that one - although he did record it later - but he started writing and doesn't appear to have looked back from then on. He went to New York University on a fencing scholarship studying pre-med - not strictly relevant to this review but quite interesting - he must be fairly pointy brained. He left six months before graduating to accept a songwriter's position with a publishing company for $50 a week. The long and the short of it was he finally wrote his first hit single "Cherry Cherry" in 1966, which got to number 6 on the billboard charts. Unfortunately, it's not on this album - I'd have been intrigued to hear it. "Cherry Cherry" was soon followed by two more chart hits, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" - yes the one from Pulp Fiction although that's a cover version - and "Solitary Man." Most people know he wrote "Red Red Wine", ska versions of which were recorded by Tony Tribe and more famously UB40. He also wrote one of the Sweary all time top 20 songs, the only version known to me being the one sung by the Monkees, "I'm a Believer". Sadly Mr Diamond's version is not on my album either. Pity, it means I'll have to dig around and compromise my shattered street credibility further by buying another one. Despite writing a number of hits for other people he didn't have much more success with his own work until 1968 when everything finally took off with a song called Shilo.
THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND WHEN LISTENING TO THIS ALBUM
Two things you have to remember about the songs on here. First, they are of their time, so things that sound a tadge cheesy... extremely cheesy actually, were the norm then. Give the guy a bit of slack. Think about Elvis at this time - 1968 to 1972 - I'm sorry but it's not pretty. He gets away with it cause he's Elvis, a few years later Abba get away with being trendily kitsch, hell even the Beegees enjoyed a renaissance but by some unknown quirk of fashion our nice Mr Diamond has to be everybody's guilty secret. Shame. I remember once listening to an interview where Paul McCartney was talking about George Harrison's song "The Inner Light". This is one of the twangy Indian-style ones - the B side of Lady Madonna. He said put your preconceptions aside and listen to the melody, it's beautiful and superbly arranged. Lo and behold! It is. When you listen to this stuff you need to apply the same approach. There are some excellent musicians playing on this album and the melodies are catchy and pretty. The arrangements might be cheesy - but they are also of the highest quality. Listen to it with half a mind on the era from which it comes and don't let the cheese and schmaltz put you off.
Second, most songs on here go to the standard 1960s pop song construction, two or three verses, a middle eight which is different followed by another final verse, often they shift up a key and there's usually an instrumental break in there somewhere. There are 3 general varieties of song, autobiographical; some soul searching, some with a dash of dry humour, some both. Story songs, songs where the singer is a character and the song a sketch in which they star, some tell stories as well as describing events and most sound as if they could come out of a musical. Then there's the out and out scary, Austin Powers sings..... I think maybe the sex idol thing - cf ex Boss's comments - went to his head.
I waited until Mr Sweary went out before sticking this album in the CD player and I have to say I didn't expect to enjoy many of the songs, let alone identify with any.... I anticipated a quick, whistle-stop tour to "Sweet Caroline" a 3 minute sing-along, another few minutes spent sticking the song on my iPod and then to file the album under "C" for Car Boot. I was therefore gobsmacked to discover, half an hour later, that I was still listening and far from fast forwarding through any of the songs, I'd had to play a couple again. Ok, so I used to work in the bus and coach industry, it's not like it bothers me to have zero street cred but even so....
Shock horror! Neil Diamond actually has a lovely - and expressive - singing voice which ranges from harsh and raw to warm and soft. There's a much wider breadth of range and dynamic than the Forever in Blue Jeans era and it's much more enjoyable to listen to. I also found all the songs amazingly immediate, as if he's singing them right into your ear. It was more like listening a record or even the real thing, than a CD. I half expected to turn round during the mid-section key shift to see him getting off a high stool in the corner of my drawing room and embarking on an energetic dance to the instrumental break...... The way he sees it is this.
"The human voice is the most important instrument at our disposal, yet it is one of the most difficult to understand or define.
You either hear it, or you don't. It either moves you, or it leaves you cold...it is more than just a sound...it is the soul itself."
A little melodramatic but then, he is. And it's a good point and he's aiming high. Let's get on with the review....
THE SONGS (yes, I know about blummin' time).
I can't do all these songs justice without repeating myself endlessly, which would be even more mind-numbingly boring than this review is already but I hope you'll get the basic gist.
TRACK 1: CRACKLIN' ROSIE
Jolly sing-along pop with a dash of that echo-ey Phil Spectre wall of sound style 60s feel but with the bells and echo toned down. Neil Sedaka's "Oh Carol" styleee. Excellent guitar work (no really). A song of the character/story variety with the catchiest middle eight in the world. Something that will have you singing along and driving far too fast in your car.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
TRACK 2: I AM... I SAID
A song about "being stuck between two shores" the difference between where you've settled and your home. It's about being homesick for roots that you can't go back to because they aren't there any more. Ask anyone you know who is an ex-pat about this feeling - or even anybody who doesn't live where they grew up and hasn't for more than 5 years. Spot on, with a little wry humour to boot "I am... I said, to no one there, but no one heard not even the chair" Pah! Even the furniture isn't listening to me! Very slick production, perhaps a bit too slick but still an easy listenin' classic. You will hum, you will tap your foot and you will sing - in all probability, against your will.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
TRACK 3: SONG SUNG BLUE
Ace of-its-era electric piano intro. Yet another catchy number that'll be stuck in my head, along with every other number on this album, for the next four weeks or so. As an ex stand-up poet, who writes comic verse to deal with things that make me seriously down, angry or generally irate I can absolutely identify with this. The basic gist of it is that if you feel sad, write something about it, then if it comes out good, you'll be so chuffed with your work that you'll feel better.
"..When you take the blues and make a song you sing them out again.
"...You can sing it with a cry in your voice. And before you get to know you're feeling good! You've simply got no choice..."
Naive, simple and bang on the money. Well blimey! There's a turn up for the books! I never expected that.
Is it unashamedly lift music or unashamedly 70s? The arrangement is a little - no a lot - Englebert in places - especially the instrumental break - but then, the turn of the 70s was like that and it was probably novel then. Who cares? I don't! I'm yelling it out at the top of my voice as I bimble along the fen roads in the dark in my car.... and I'm laughing.
Sweary Song Score 8/10
TRACK 4: BROTHER LOVE'S TRAVELLING SALVATION SHOW
Ever heard a gospel band in full swing? Forget the rest. Just listen to the bass line, I am addicted to bass. Naff but nonetheless brilliantly executed Gospel bass in this instance. The quality is up there with "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass. The drumming excellent here, too. He gets into character and delivers a very authentic sounding gospel sermon in the middle. It's great, exactly what they're like and because it's a vignette, rather than a message, the result is more Sweary joining in and more laughter. A hint of a Neil Sedaka hiccup to the voice in places. A tip top track!
Sweary Song Score 9/10
TRACK 5: HOLLY HOLY
The verse bit too like one of the modern arrangements for the sung responses in church. Not really my bag, too slow and not much happens... then you get the Las Vegas style build up with a full on orchestral backing. Curate's egg then, good in parts but it's not as good as the 3 that come before it. I think they should have dropped this and put "I'm a believer on" but then, I would.
Sweary Song Score 5/10
TRACK 6: SOOLAIMON
This one's bizarre. It has three sections of melody, two of which I really like and one of which doesn't do the business but does act as a contrast to the melody and drama of the others - hmm that's what it's there for, perhaps? It's meant to sound African but it has certain Tudor overtones to me, something to do with whatever stringed instrument they use to answer the voice - viol? Check out the fab warbly StarTrek theme-style singing in the middle which is brilliant to do at high speed on the motorway. Oh dear, more Sweary singing and, in all likelihood, 3 points and a £40 fine....
Sweary Song Score 6/10
TRACK 7: HE AIN'T HEAVY
This is one of the few songs on the album not written by the artist. He does it credit but to be honest, I'm not sure it works 100%. That said, there's more jangly acoustic guitar - which is good and he sings it, the verses especially, in a thoughtful, introspective manner which is interesting. I like the melody but even the original Hollies version is too sentimental and over the top for my tastes - he is veering into the Englebert zone again but this song doesn't carry it the way "Song Sung Blue" does.
Sweary Song Score 5/10
TRACK 8: STONES
We are now definitely in the mid-record zone. What with "He Ain't Heavy" this and the next track all back to back. Who can I approximate this to? Van the Man? Maybe. An introspective ballad which to be frank, I don't know how to describe. There is a 12 stringed-style twang to the guitar on all these tracks which I really enjoy and it's particularly prevalent here. Dreamy, moody, pretty... great stuff.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
TRACK 9: PLAY ME
More fab tinkly guitar. Another superb arrangement. Another great song. Yeh it's slow and soppy but so what? He sings it like he means it and it works.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
TRACK 10: WALK ON WATER
Neil Diamond sing Neil Diamond's answer to Lady Madonna.... only there are hints of Cornwell in the accent - no seriously - and what are "childron"? That said, I'm not sure what a Brooklyn accent sounds like so it's more likely to be my ignorance at work than any genuine Conwellian bent to his enunciation. Still it's odd and slightly detrimental to the song's appeal. Otherwise a lively sing-along with another hint of gospel influence and some James Brown like "Hurghs!" which are great fun if vigorously sung while driving. More Sweary caterwauling and foot tapping ensues. Driving across the fens while listening the needle hits the naughty side of the speedo once again. No gatso's here though so no points and only the cost of some lozenges for my sore throat. Note to self, must sing quieter in future.
Sweary Song Score 6/10
TRACK 11: AND THE SINGER SINGS HIS SONG
Pure romantic melodrama. Guitar and string quartet number with a dash of orchestra and bingly glockenschpiel. Help me! Save me from myself! Why have I not thrown this CD out of the car window yet?
Sweary Song Score 6/10
TRACK 12: MR BOJANGLES
Good ol' Walker folk standard, covered by everyone in the entire world and... Mr Diamond. I love the guitar on this and sad story aside, I love the sense of movement and the whole up-beat feel-good tone of the melody. Difficult not to sing along. In the home, difficult to leave the room before it's finished because I want to hear the whole story, difficult not to start bopping about - I make do with swivelling my desk chair in time.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
TRACK 13: SOLITARY MAN
This is a live version which I have to confess to dreading hearing. I'd never heard the studio version either but I find live stuff tends to be a bit disappointing. Not this one. A couple of rounds of Fleewood Mac "Sarah" style guitar licks, a quick cough and we're off. Even the backing singer sounds a bit like Stevie Nicks. Plenty of humour "I thought Belinda was mine until the time I found her with Jim, loving him" and a rousing chorus. Even better you actually could play this one in front of your friends without too much embarrassment. One to remember for Karioke night.
Sweary Song Score 8/10
TRACK 14: KENTUCKY WOMAN
Another catchy foot-tapping live recording of equal quality and energy to it's predecessor. It has me breaking off from my work to dance about the room. Luckily Mr Sweary does not see. He is still out.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
TRACK 15: AND THE STARS WON'T PAY NO MIND
More class guitar work here and star drumming to boot - nobody's playing anything particularly difficult, they're just doing it so instinctively together and well that it stands out. A truly excellent band behind him on this one, and he needs it because this is the first hard-core "Austin Powers sings..." on the album. It starts off ok, folky guitar picking song, swishy drum beat comes in, Mr D begins to sing... and then the backing vocalists start and all of a sudden you have the soundtrack to every bad 70s porn flick you've ever seen. I just dissolve into helpless laughter at this point... it's up there with Serge Gainsbourg's "Je t'aime" - except it leaves "Je t'aime" far behind in it's quest for cheesiness and overtly and yet thoroughly dodgy dealing with the subject of sex!
"Come! Touch my soul with your cries..."
Yowch! But no worse than Elvis' "I'm just a hunk, a hunk of burning love..." is it?
Perhaps people were simply a bit more naff in the late 60s and early 70s but how could the same era that produced the Ferrari Dino and the Lotus Elan SE2 produce this....? Then again, it's the same era that produced the black and gold JPS Lotus Europa and wasn't the Maseriti Marat from about this time...? Ah yes... now I understand.
Walking to the shops with my i-Pod on, listening to this song, I cannot help but laugh, out loud, overtly and yes, thoroughly against my better judgement. As they give me sideways looks and a wide berth I sheepishly tell leery passers by that I'm listening to an amusing podcast - I don't know what a podcast is but it seems to work. It looks like they think I'm less of a loony now.
I am frightened to think that people seduced each other to stuff like this in its home decade! Ordinary, every day people with good taste - people like you and I - were conceived to music like this... probably on white sheepskin rugs in front of artificial, log effect gas fires. Playing this song in public is just not possible. It would be up there with admitting you have a crack habit or sleeping with one of your boy/girlfriend's parents and then telling everybody. It's just not done and it's certainly not talked about! It's not a song you can play to your friends, either, but since it's as addictive as the others it's a song you'll be furtively listening to again and again behind closed car doors or industrially insulated headphones.
Sweary Song Score, a helplessly mirthful 9/10
TRACK 16: THE LAST THING ON MY MIND
This is the third of only four tracks on this album which Mr Diamond didn't write himself. However, unlike his cover of "He Ain't Heavy" this really works. It's heart wrenching. No other word for it. For anyone who has been binned while they are still in love. Yes, play this and sob. More schmaltz with a capital S but.... sniff... blub...
Sweary Song Score, a tearful 7/10
TRACK 17: GIRL, YOU'LL BE A WOMAN, SOON
Interesting in that it's so different to the cover version used in Pulp Fiction, slightly more polished in its presentation but just as raw and heartfelt. Just as poignant, just as good.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
TRACK 18: IF YOU GO AWAY
Austin Powers strike two! After a harpsichord intro which, to me, is faintly reminiscent of the Beach Boys - heaven knows why - we get a keening verse, all minor key and he even puts in that sob he talks about in "Song Sung Blue". Reach the chorus, though and the tempo changes - think Louis Armstrong's "All the Time in The World" a la James Bond... and yes... there is a similar compliment of brass, strings and bongos! Fab!
Then what he's singing actually hits me.... "Hang on a minute!" I think. "Did he just sing that?" I reach for the remote and press the back button "nerveeeeeeshanarb...splooballooballoba...." I'm ready to listen again... Yes, indeed he did.
"But if you stay
I'll make you a night like no night has been
or will be again!
I'll sail on your smile
I'll ride on your touch
I'll talk to your eyes
That I love so much
But if you go I won't cry
But the good is gone from goodbye
If you go away...."
Lorks! How does he get away with singing stuff like this? How did he find a song with words this cheesy which he didn't actually write himself? This is the fourth and final cover. I am cringing and yet unable to fast forward because, horror of horrors... I like this song! Ok so once again, in his defence, a few of Elvis' choicer lyrics spring to mind but even so..... All credit to Mr Diamond, you'd have to be a special kind of man to carry this sort of thing off wouldn't you? A very brave man! And yet.... Being in love does bring out a certain dramatic edge to me (but then there's a lot of French blood in my family, most of it Mediterranean). I am getting into the melodrama and I am singing along, screwing up my eyes and taking both hands off the wheel to make the appropriately heartfelt gestures in the right places!
Over indulgently sentimental, even camp, perhaps but a great tune and another fab turn-of-the-70s musical arrangement.
Once again, a song for the remote country road or industrially insulated headphones, this one - remember to turn it down at the traffic lights or your credibility will be destroyed for ever.
Sweary Song Score - an embarrassed and cringing 8/10
TRACK 19: BROOKLYN ROADS
A fine set of Simon and Garfunkle-esque "Richard Cory" or maybe the gas bit in "Most Peculiar Man" style guitar riffs at the beginning. Another piece that sounds like it's come out of a Broadway musical. Clearly autobiographical... or at least up to a point... where he admits being a hopelessly romantic child, building himself "a castle with dragons and kings" riding off with them all in his daydreams etc etc.... But of course he doesn't need to tell us that, we've just listened to "If You Go Away" we know he's a hopeless, soppy, romantic git, bless 'im. Another full-on orchestra backing but not forgetting those jingly acoustic guitar riffs which I enjoy. A little harpsichord in the instrumental break, another easy listening but atmospheric arrangement. Grows on you with exposure. Also contains these lines.
"...Report cards I was always afraid to show.
Mum would come to school
And as I'd sit there softly crying
Teacher'd say, 'he's just not trying!
'Got a good head if he'd apply it but you know, yourself,
It's always somewhere else...'"
Haven't we all been there? I took to school like an anvil takes to the air - ie no amount of heavy lifting, metaphorical or physical, could get me into it - so for that, alone, it gets a 7.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
TRACK 20: SWEET CAROLINE
What can I say? Anyone who has spent their formative Sunday afternoons under the bathwater listening to Jimmy Saville's old record show on Radio 1 while they wait for the chart show to come on will know and love this song. Others of you may, too. Totally of it's era - 1968 - influences of Neil Sedaka? Elvis? But still, essentially and unmistakeably good old quirky Mr Diamond.
Sweary Song Score 7/10
These are top songs so why is it that Neil Diamond has no street cred? Is it because the songs are unashamedly sentimental? Yes they are but none of the arrangements are that different from anything else that was around at the time by artists who are now considered to be cool. Furthermore, as a reflection of their era these songs are some of the best crafted and produced you can get. Is it because he got stuck in a 70s-tastic time warp when the rest of the world moved on....? Mmm could be. Is it because the evil fairisle-jumpered clone troopers of the easy listenin' Empire stole Mr Diamond's style and made it their own - did he get there first? Is it because nobody gets far enough past the sentimentality to notice that there is humour as well as schmaltz in many of the songs? Almost certainly a contributory factor. Could it be because it's the music many of us remember our parents listening and dancing embarrassingly to at parties? Yes! Could be! Or is it those spangly blue shirts open to the navel? I'd say so but then... Look at the taste crimes John Travolta committed in the 70s and he's now Mr Ice Cool. Isn't it time we forgave Mr Diamond his excesses?
I think the greatest test of an album is how long you play it before you start getting bored, so far it's been this and nothing else for a week. The second part of the test is your reaction after you've let it rest for month or so and listened again. If the songs are like old friends, familiar and worn but just as damn good you know you're onto a winner. I haven't got to part two but if it fails to pass muster, be assured I'll be the first to let you know.
Why do I love this album? Maybe because the background to a lot of songs is about being somebody who doesn't fit in and has learned not to care. Maybe because Mr Diamond's puts so much of his personality into each one. Maybe it's because his example - of walking away from a sensible living and spending several years eking a very meagre one as a songwriter before he hit the big time - has given me a certain amount of inspiration and hope for my own languishing career. Maybe I love it because I have bad taste but the fact is, I do. Packed to the gunwales as it is with unashamedly sing-along pop songs which are utterly of their era this album is fun to listen to. Fun.... something you have when you grow out of being cool. In fact, it's a real scream.
The completely over the top romance in these songs, far from appalling, merely appeals to my sense of drama. The saddest thing, to me, is that because of the lack of cred in his later career, I have neglected the work of an able and engaging musician - if this album is anything to go by at any rate. I'm sure if he'd died young, like Elvis, he really would be one of the gods of pop.
The presence in my music collection of a Neil Diamond album is not something which I am likely to advertise but I reckon I can defend its presence almost without embarrassment and anyway, it's something I'm going to have to get used to. In fact, I suspect there will be more than this one in there before the year is out. I wouldn't say I'll ever be a dyed-in-the-wool fan but I will be keeping a weather eye out on e-bay and the car boots for a copy of his original first 4 LPs.
That said, if I start reviewing albums by Des O'Connor, Val Doonigan or Englebert Humperdink you know I've lost my marbles and need to be humanely destroyed.
Yeek! What is wrong with me? I have drastically underestimated the power of the dark side. Easy listenin' pop has me in it's evil thrall and I've started to think Neil Diamond is retro-cool.
To quote an impressively pretentious line from Q magazine...
"...Diamond has created a curious canon of robustly mature, youth-bypassing pop songs...worthy of investigation."
I'm pushing 40, I have no street cred and I don't give a toss! Let the investigation begin.....
Overall album score, for consistent performance, no songs on there that I don't like lots that I do it's: 8 yes that's E-I-G-H-T out of 10.
Thoroughly, wholeheartedly recommended for a couple of hours of no holds barred sing-along pop - but not in front of anyone you want to impress.
Price: A bargain £3.33
If you've had the stamina to get this far, thanks for reading.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Cracklin' Rosie
2 I Am...I Said
3 Song Sung Blue
4 Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
5 Holly Holy
7 He Ain't Heavy ... He's My Brother
9 Play Me
10 Walk On Water
11 And The Singer Sings His Song - Neil Diamond, Lee Holdridge
12 Mr. Bojangles - Lee Holdridge, Neil Diamond
13 Solitary Man - Neil Diamond, Lee Holdridge
14 Kentucky Woman
15 And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind
16 Last Thing On My Mind
17 Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon - Neil Diamond, Lee Holdridge
18 If You Go Away
19 Brooklyn Roads
20 Sweet Caroline